I almost always begin my walks within this site with a meander around the edge of the grassy area in front of the car park, both of which are located on the bottom of what was once a quarry. The old excavations have left the small field sheltered by limestone ‘cliffs’ on two sides and it is bordered on all sides with trees, mostly ash and sycamore. Along one long side there is a border of mixed shrubby and herbaceous vegetation creating a stretch of my favourite habitat; woodland edge.
The wildflowers that grow here are not spectacular and tend towards the robust end of the plant spectrum, but they support a diverse number of insect species so are great hunting grounds for the likes of me, armed with a camera. There’s plenty of hogweed here, already featured in the last post, then there are nettles, dock, the sticky green cleavers or goosegrass and new this month, the magenta spikes of Hedge, or Wood Woundwort. It often grows in the company of nettles and having similar leaves it blends in with them until the flowers show; the photograph below shows both plants.
Growing in hedgerows, on woodland edges, roadside verges and various shady places, Hedge Woundwort is not a particularly stand-out plant as far as its looks are concerned. A member of the mint family, Labiateae, it has a distinct aroma, one of those that is hard to describe, but which most wildflower guides refer to as ‘unpleasant, particularly when crushed or bruised’. I must have a strangely developed sense of smell; maybe as a result of working with essential oils, but I don’t find it offensive at all.
Brambles are often a component plant of the woodland edge flora. They are flowering now too and are also sought after by a wide variety of insects.
From the field I walked up the steps following the ‘woodland trail’, making a diversion around the border of another meadow area. I stopped at a spot where there were several brown butterflies fluttering around amongst the long grass and shrubbery. My first assumption was that they were Meadow Browns as I’m used to seeing them throughout most of the site at this time of year, but stopping to watch properly I realised that although there were Meadow Browns there, most were actually Ringlets.
The Ringlets were very mobile and fluttering around mainly within the stems of the long grass, as they characteristically do. On the occasions when one paused in its circuiting to take nectar from bramble flowers or to rest low down on a leaf or grass stem, the insect would either be obscured by grass stems or disturbed by the dive-bombing of another butterfly or a bee. I waited patiently for ages, just watching them until I got the opportunity to grab a shot of one on bramble leaf. It posed nicely, but turned out to have chunks missing from its wings, poor thing.
I wasn’t giving up now though, and standing around in the warm sunshine in this peaceful spot, surrounded by lush greenery and time to watch the insect world go by was not exactly a hardship. Every now and then the butterflies disappeared from view for a few minutes, most probably touring another part of their territory, but while waiting there were other insects to watch. One particularly interesting performance was provided by three hoverflies. The two smaller ones were hovering around and bothering the larger one on the bramble flower; two males competing for the attention of a female who eventually got tired of them and saw them both off. The hoverflies are of a small Eristalis species, but the photographs aren’t good enough to determine which one.
Another chance of a Ringlet arose, this time a perfect subject, but a bit further away and hiding its head and body behind the bramble’s stamens. I got the ring pattern this time though.
Standing around in the direct sun was starting to get uncomfortable, so I left the Ringlets to their chasing to find a bit of shade. As luck would have it I soon came upon more of them and one posed beautifully on a bramble leaf in the dappled shade of an oak tree.
Ringlet – Aphantopus hyperantus
The rings on the hindwings give this butterfly its common name and make it unmistakeable when seen at rest. The uppersides are a uniform chocolate brown that distinguish this butterfly from the closely-related Meadow Brown that can often be found flying within the same areas. A newly-emerged adult Ringlet is a surprisingly beautiful insect, the velvety wings providing a striking contrast with the delicate white fringes found on the wing edges. The dark colouring also allows this butterfly to quickly warm up – this butterfly being one of the few that flies on overcast days.
Walking out into what is effectively a large clearing in the woodland I came upon another two butterflies, one a rather faded female Common Blue, the other a much fresher Small Heath.
A surprise find here and a pretty note on which to end this section of my walk was a single Pyramidal Orchid, the first one I’ve seen here on Bryn Euryn.